Skate sharpening tutorial and photos by Mary Wong.
Please do not re-post or copy without permission.
How often should you sharpen your skates? What makes skates dull? Ice surfaces have dirt and impurities that can dull your blades. Skates can lose an edge after only one skating session. Blades rust and corrode while in storage. In general, why waste your time skating on dull skates? Sharp skates perform better, and you will be able to go faster and control them better with less effort.
Speed skates are sharpened by hand. Each skater is responsible for his or her own skates. There are many opinions on the “correct” way to sharpen skates. Everyone develops their own method after trial and error. This tutorial shows the method I use. At the bottom of this page is a sharpening video from US Speedskating.
Speed skate blades are flat along the bottom with two 90 degree edges.
The purpose of sharpening is to restore the edges to 90 degrees and to remove scratches or very small dings. Dented blades may be damaged beyond repair. Dull edges don’t grip the ice as well, and are harder to control when turning and may slide out of the turn.
Sharpening stones (natural or diamond)
Deburring stone (sometimes called a burr stone) (natural or diamond)
water or oil, or both
sturdy level surface
good source of light
Set up the sharpening jig on a well-lit, sturdy, level work surface.
A small amount of very fine metallic dust will be generated in the process of sharpening skates.
If you plan to use an aerosol such as WD40, set up in a well-ventilated area.
Place your skates into the jig so that the toes and heels of the boots are lined up. Most jigs can be adjusted to accommodate shorter or longer blades. Try to set them up so about an inch of blade sticks out past the clamps.
Make sure the boots are not touching each other, or the blades may not be vertical in the jig.
The jigs shown in these photos have “up-stops.” With the blades set loosely in the jig, screw the up-stops firmly into place.
The jig should have an end-stop attached either to the jig or to the up-stops. Slide the blades so that they both touch the end-stop. This will align the blades side-by-side.
Lift one of the blades, so it touches both of the up-stops, and so the end still touches the end stop. Tighten the clamps onto the blade. Do the same for the other blade. If the boots touch each other, you will need to loosen at least one set of brackets that fasten the blades to the boots. Using masking tape or a marker, mark where the blade is mounted to the boot, so you can put it back. Position the blades and tighten the clamps.
Remove the up-stops. The up-stops must be removed before sharpening.
Make sure the jig is stable and the other equipment is in reach, and there is a light from a good source. This is a good time to look at the blades for any damage.
This next step is something you may skip, but I do this every time, just as a precaution. Holding the edge of the fine side of the sharpening stone across both blades, I make a gentle scratch from side to side over both blades. By examining this scratch and making sure it goes across both blades evenly, I can be sure my blades are level in the jig.
Using the coarse side of the stone, drag the stone from toe to heel and heel to toe along both blades. While moving the stone along the length of the blade, you may wish to shift the stone slowly toward either the right or the left. Think of leaving a long scratch along the length of the blade. The stone is removing metal from the blade.
There is no rule about how many times to grind the stone back and forth over the blades.
It is important to:
hold the blade with even pressure using both hands, moving the stone evenly along the length of the blade;
grind all the way from heel to toe so you retain the curve of the blade;
make sure your stone is in good condition and is truly flat, not hollowed out in the middle from overuse.
Note for using the whole surface of a sharpening stone: As I push the coarse side of the stone along the length of the blade from heel to toe and back to the heel again, I also move the stone gradually from left to right (toe to heel), and right to left (heel to toe). If you look at the blade, the faint score marks in the blade are not straight up and down the blade. They are on a diagonal. Now, for the next 10 or so strokes, I move the stone left to right, rather than right to left. The stone is at 90 degrees to the blade, but the grinding is slightly to one side and then to the other. The method uses most of the surface of the stone and helps to prevent creating hollows in the stone.
The purpose of sharpening is to restore the edge of the blade, not take off a lot of metal.
After you have passed the stone over the blades 5 or 10 times, check the edge of the blade with a fingernail to see if you have built up any burr.
Try the “fingernail” test. Pull your fingernail upwards along the side of the blade. It will catch a bit at the edge where there is a burr. You might be able to see the burr under a strong light.
I prefer to check the inside edge of the middle of the right blade first. This area gets the most use and dulls first. If I have burr along this section of the blade, it is likely there is a burr along all the entire length of all 4 edges. Do a quick check of all the edges anyway. If there is no build-up along one of the edges, the blades may have slipped in the jig and any further sharpening will cause damage. Start over again at step one if one edge doesn’t get any burr.
Once all four edges have burr along the entire length, stop grinding with the coarse stone.
Turn the jig on its side.
If the sides of the boots extend beyond the side of the jig, then tip an end of the jig up so the weight is on the jig and NOT on the sides of the boots. If you use a natural deburring stone, put a few drops of oil on the side of the blade. (Diamond stones use water as the lubricant.) I prefer baby oil because it cleans up easily.
Place the deburring stone flat on the side of the blade and move it along the length of all 4 sides of the blades.
All of the burr won’t be cut off by using the deburring stone. The burr will actually just bend over the bottom edge of the blade. It’s like breaking a piece of wire by bending it back and forth a few times until it snaps.
Set the jig back in the upright position. Using the fine sharpening stone, push the stone back and forth along the entire length of the blades again. You should hear a difference in the sound the stone makes, as the blade becomes more polished. You should also feel less resistance while you are pushing the stone back and forth. DO NOT move the stone diagonally side to side in this step. The stone needs to polish straight up and down the length of the blade. In order to preserve the stone, polish a couple of strokes heel to toe, move the stone an inch to the left, make a couple more strokes, move the stone over a bit again, polish a couple more strokes.
It should only take a few passes for the blade to be polished, and the burr to be knocked off or bent back down.
Loosen the clamps. Remove one skate.
You need a level surface to rest the blade on, so you can deburr one more time. Some people use the edge of a workbench or counter. I prefer to just use the jig itself. Place a folded up towel on the end of the jig and rest the blade on the towel.
There may be enough oil or water still on the blade, or you can add more. Gently use the deburring stone along the entire length of both edges. You are trying to knock off any remaining burr, not build up new burr.
Wipe the blade off with a rag, and put the blade guard or soaker back on it. Finish the other blade. Once you get used to sharpening your skates, it shouldn’t take more than about 10 minutes to get those edges ready for the next skating session.
Here is a skate sharpening video by US Speedskating’s Nick Pearson
The tips of these blades need to be ground to a 10mm radius (approximate radius of a nickel) to conform to racing requirements!
See Rule 291, Page 102 of the ISU Rules for requirements.